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Luna Moth

There was so much great detective work on yesterday’s Mystery Monday! Are you ready for the mystery reveal?

The answer to yesterday’s mystery is… a Luna Moth!

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are one of the larger moth species found in Ohio. They are in the Giant Silkworm Moth family and are found in the eastern half of the United States and up into southeast Canada. Their habitats include wooded forests, and even more suburban areas, as long as they have large trees—specifically their host trees. These moths are polyphagous, meaning that they are not limited to eating one kind of plant, but can feed on many types. The host trees that the luna moth eggs are laid on, and the caterpillars feed on once hatched, include birch, cherry, elm, oak, poplar, walnut, and willow, among others.

 

 

Once the eggs have hatched and the caterpillars have grown to their appropriate size at roughly 3 inches long, they will form cocoons in the leaf litter on the ground. If the eggs are laid in the late summer, the luna moth pupae will overwinter in these cocoons, and will begin to eclose (emerge out of their cocoon as a fully formed adult) in the month of April. Eggs that are laid in late spring or early summer will spend 2-3 weeks in their cocoons before eclosing as winged, adult luna moths. These adults have no functioning mouth parts and rely on the energy they have stored from their caterpillar stage. The only job of an adult luna moth is to find a mate and reproduce, to then continue the cycle of these beautiful nocturnal creatures. They will only live for about a week in their adult stage of life. In order to expedite the mating process, adult males have very large, feathery-looking antennae. These are used to pick up the pheromones of adult females.

 

 

Luna moths are prey for a variety of other nocturnal animals, such as bats and owls. These moths have a few tricks up their (nonexistent) sleeves, however, in order to help stay safe from these predators. As a plant mimic, their green coloring helps them blend into the green leaves on trees. They can be very difficult to find, even for human eyes! Additionally, there is evidence that their elongated tails will disturb a bat predator’s echolocation when fluttered and make the moths much more difficult to catch.

 

 

Luna moth populations have declined in the past few years. So how can we help these brilliant green flyers of the night? One easy thing to do is to leave leaf litter in your yard during the fall and over the winter. Since these moth cocoons are formed in the leaf litter, bagging or chopping up yard leaves will result in the same fate for these pupae. If possible, gently raking the leaves into specific areas of the yard, such as garden beds, will greatly help these and many other moth and insect species! An extra benefit to this process is that your garden will receive great fertilizer from the decomposing leaves!

Have you ever found a Luna Moth around your home or in a MetroPark? Let us know!